With growth comes complexity. And suddenly, old systems that used to handle basic business processes can no longer get the job done.
Benco Dental is a family-owned distributor of dental supplies. Its founder, Benjamin Cohen, began selling instruments to dentists in 1924. He formed Benco in 1930.
Today, Benco Dental claims to be the largest independently owned dental-supply company in the U.S. With headquarters in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Benco operates more than 40 regional showrooms. They are supplied by four distribution centers, in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Texas and Florida. The company's sales territory encompasses 30 states in the eastern half of the U.S. (in addition to some international business), with about 20,000 customers overall.
Benco offers a broad product line, from cabinets and computers to the big, expensive equipment that is common to every dentist's office. Sales of the larger units can be "a long, drawn-out process," says application development manager Eric Labashosky. But other items move more quickly. Many customers demand a one- to two-day turnaround on their orders, he says.
To make that happen, the DCs must function at maximum efficiency. The company aims for a 96-percent fill rate, says Labashosky. As a pure distributor, it must forge tight links with its roster of manufacturers, some of which are outside the U.S.
Large or small, no distributor can function smoothly without an efficient process for generating key documents, especially those that are seen by the customer. With its previous system, Benco was forced to design a new document for every type of output, requiring the maintenance of some 100 distinct documents overall.
Deploying those forms, generated in batch mode, could be achingly slow. Each batch of statements would take more than 45 minutes to produce. One seven-batch run-a typical end-of-month processing task-would last more than five and a half hours. As business grew, Benco found itself incurring substantial overtime expense for weekend work, just so the proper documents could be turned out in time.
Benco went looking for a new software package for document output management. Reviewing several candidates, including its then-current vendor, it opted instead for an application from StreamServe Inc.
One Tool for the Job
Based in Burlington, Mass., StreamServe specializes in a software segment termed Enterprise Document Presentment, or EDP. Its system gave Benco one tool for converting all customer-facing documents, such as account statements and a breakdown of each customer's monthly purchases. The software would allow the company to draw data from any application, in multiple formats and sources, and output the result to any communications device at the other end.
Benco acquired the new EDP application in the early fall of 2005. StreamServe furnished one of its consultants to aid in implementation; the expert spent about a week on site training the customer's administrative staff. "This is not a shrink-wrapped software package," says John Rueter, chief marketing officer with StreamServe. "You have to act in a consultative approach."
Once the expert helped Benco to get started, the company took between three and four months to get all of its documents converted to StreamServe. Even with the new system in place, says Labashosky, that part of the job wasn't easy. Benco had to design and lay out each document, dictating where all the fields were to go. "It was quite a challenge," he says. Once the documents were in the system, however, the task became far easier to manage than before.
The conversion process ended up greatly reducing the total number of "enterprise" documents in the system-from more than 100 to just 32. StreamServe EDP allowed Benco to create a single master document. Using dynamic logic, it could then specify formats and customized delivery choices for each recipient. Previously, Benco had needed to maintain three versions of each document, for e-mail, faxing and printing.
Gone was all of the employee overtime needed to process documents. The 45 minutes needed to generate a single batch was shrunk to just three minutes. At the same time, the new system freed up Benco's resources for other kinds of batch processing and reports, Labashosky says.
By printing items in bulk, Benco could more easily work with an outside party to manage and send paper documents, including folding and envelope stuffing. The company used to carry out those tasks in house, using machines that would only be occupied once or twice a month.
StreamServe EDP also promised to help Benco with a problem it had encountered in order processing. The new software could be used to generate pick tickets and customer orders, Labashosky says. Under the old system, it might take five to 10 minutes for a simple pick ticket to start printing out.
Using StreamServe to handle that process was a natural extension of the system. Because the tickets go into the boxes that are shipped out, they are considered another form of "customer-facing" documents, Labashosky says.
He hopes to make even greater use of the software in the months to come. Specifically, Benco is looking into print archiving, whereby it saves a copy of each customer invoice and copies it to a disk. The action will allow Benco to generate exact copies of invoices whenever they are needed.
Benco acquired the EDP application for more than just automating the creation of documents, says Rueter. Its business is built around satisfying customer demand. In fact, the seemingly mundane act of generating documents can have a serious impact on sales. Poor communications between a vendor and its account base are the number-one reason why customers switch providers, he says.
The EDP software "allows Benco to personalize the customer experience so that information can be sent out as it is asked for, whether by e-mail, fax or a combination of them," Rueter says. "You can go in and apply changes uniformly across all communications vehicles."
Most of the company's document transmissions are done via e-mail today, as PDF attachments. But Benco expects to rely more heavily in future on direct internet communications, using extensible markup language (XML). That technology streamlines data mapping and document design, Labashosky says, allowing Benco to make better use of key data through its supply chain.
Labashosky initially was concerned about the EDP system's ability to grow with the company. Benco has ambitious plans to increase sales, both within its existing regions and in additional parts of the U.S. Late last year, it took a step west across the Mississippi River, by expanding operations into the state of Missouri. A new St. Louis branch will give Benco 48 locations in 31 states.
StreamServe responded with examples of other customers whose operations are much larger than those of Benco. The vendor's accounts include Coca-Cola Enterprises, Circuit City Stores, Inc. and DaimlerChrysler Bank.
"Ever since that day," says Labashosky, "I've never worried about scaleability."
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